Hardwoods are mainly broadleaf, deciduous trees, shedding their leaves in winter, although some hardwoods are evergreen. There are two groups, temperate and tropical, accounting for some 20,000 different commercial species.
Although generally more durable and stronger than softwood, they must be used in the correct way and specified according to the environmental conditions which they will face – with some requiring treatement.
Unlike softwoods, which can grow extraordinarily quickly – hardwoods generally grow at a far slower rate, so it is particularly important that they are managed through sustainable forestry practices.
The properties of hardwoods
Hardwoods have a denser structure, with a well known example from the UK being Oak. However, they can be found all over the world, and often are split into two camps, being temperate hardwood and tropical hardwood.
While Oak is a well known UK example of a hardwood, there are a huge range of hardwoods which are commercially available, and sustainably sourced hardwoods are an important market for promoting better global forestry practices.
Where in the UK will I find hardwoods being used
While hardwoods may not have the heightened profile they once did, their beauty and strength means they continue to be prized. As the generally carry a higher price, they are less likely to be found in the structural elements.
However, the strength and resilience of hardwoods to weather or heavy use make them great for flooring or windows. When cared for they will outlast many other materials, which also makes them a great choice for furniture.
Where does hardwood in the UK come from
While they can be found in all areas of the world, including Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, generally hardwoods are understood to be either tropical or temperate.
Temperate hardwoods, such as oak, birch or beech, most often come from Europe or North America, and given their long history of use in the UK, are often a popular choice as they provide a very traditional aesthetic.
Tropical hardwoods are sourced from Africa, Asia and South America. There are thousands of tropical species available, and they provide an essential income to many otherwise impoverished communities.
Because of how long hardwood timber tends to take to grow, it is important to take steps to ensure that this timber comes from a sustainable source. Read our timber trade topic on Sourcing Sustainable Timber for more info on how to ensure your timber is sustainable.